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Report predicts Windows XP will remain a security target in 2011

Perhaps the most interesting prediction from the F-Secure report, however, is that the Windows 7 operating system has been lauded as a safer operating system than its predecessor Window Vista.

Despite overtaking Vista in terms of market share this year, F-Secure says that Windows 7 is still far behind Windows XP, which remains by far the most popular operating system and the biggest target for malware writers.

Mikko Hypponen, the firm's chief research officer, says that the last year's security threats, notably the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on various websites, are not as significant as they first appear.

"There is nothing new in the type of DDoS attacks that were used to target companies like Mastercard, Visa and Paypal, which had dissociated themselves from WikiLeaks", he said, adding that today, DDoS attacks have become so easy to carry out that almost anyone can participate.

The most significant malware development of the year – and perhaps of the whole decade –- he says, has been the highly sophisticated Stuxnet worm.

"Stuxnet can attack factory systems and alter automation processes, therefore making cyber sabotage a reality by causing actual real-world damage. Unfortunately it's likely that we will see Stuxnet copycats in the future", he explained.

The F-Secure CRO noted that the security implications of using outdated operating systems have been demonstrated by reports that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could in part have been caused by the failure of computers that were still using Windows NT 4 from 1996.

"It is irresponsible that a billion dollar oil drilling operation did not bother to keep its computers up-to-date and as secure as possible", he said.

Hyponnen went on to say that the number of mobile malware has not increased dramatically in 2010 but this year saw some developments that may give pointers to future trends.

For example, he explained, a trojanised version of the Windows Mobile game 3D Anti-terrorist action was uploaded to several Windows Mobile freeware download sites.

"Infected phones made secret calls to expensive premium rate numbers, resulting in big phone bills for the victims", he said.

"On the mobile security front, we expect to see growing amounts of malware targeting the Android platform and jailbroken iPhones", he added.